Families in Baltimore City Need a Centralized School Choice Hub

by Corrie Schoenberg, Senior Program Director

In 2016, the Fund for Educational Excellence spoke with more than 400 Baltimore City Public Schools parents and students about their experiences with the middle and high school choice process. What we heard is outlined in Calculated Choices: Equity and Opportunity in Baltimore City Public Schools, the third in a series of reports bringing parent and student voices to bear on how Baltimore’s public schools can work better for those they serve.

During the Calculated Choices listening campaign, parents talked about how confounding the school choice process can feel. Many didn’t understand how to complete the City Schools choice application, particularly the importance of ranking the five schools they were applying to in order of preference. Others expressed confusion about how charter applications relate (or don’t) to the City Schools application. With the choice season for SY18-19 winding down, now is a good time to talk about streamlining the process to better serve parents and students. We need to move to one online school choice hub.

Without a centralized hub, families are left juggling multiple applications, requirements, and timelines. Consider what a mother and son intent on maximizing school choice options might have to navigate. Let’s say this student is interested in the Ingenuity Project, an advanced math and science program offered at Poly, and plans to apply to City College, Dunbar, Bard, and MerVo as other options on his City Schools choice application. He also wants to apply to three charter schools – Green Street Academy, Coppin Academy, and City Neighbors High School. Here is what this family is facing:

  • Ingenuity requires a completely separate application due in December – a month before the City Schools application deadline — and administers its own admissions assessment in January.
  • Bard requires an interview and writing sample during a Bard-run interview day in November, December, or January.
  • Each of the three charter schools requires its own application with its own deadline and conducts its own lottery to select students.

This student and his mother are now managing six different application processes.

It’s easy to understand why parents are confused about the school choice process. Different choice elements have been pieced together and added to each other for decades. What sounds simple – in middle and high school, City Schools students can choose their schools – is, in practice, simply not.

We strongly encourage City Schools, including all of Baltimore’s charters, to band together and establish one common online application and one lottery for the benefit of all Baltimore City students and their families.

We know this kind of system is possible. The District of Columbia Public Schools and nearly all of Washington, DC’s charter schools made this move several years ago with www.MySchoolDC.org. Public school parents in DC go to that website to apply to up to twelve schools – district or charter – and rank their choices. School profiles are also located on MySchoolDC.org.

City Schools and all of our city’s charters can and should do this as well.

As we push for this change, we recognize that parents and students need help navigating the choice system we have right now. This year, the Fund is offering a new school choice workshop to any group of three or more City Schools parents, available upon request. For more information, please email corries@ffee.org.

We owe it to our families to simplify the choice process so that all students can find and apply to the schools that best meet their needs. Make your voices heard and help advocate for this necessary change. Share this article on social media, contact district and school leaders, and spread the word.